Seals of the Deanery of Jersey

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This article by Norman Rybot was first published in the 1954 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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The following article is an amended edition of one which I wrote for Dean Samuel Falle in 1930. It was published in St Helier's Parish Magazine for December of that year and has long since been out of print.

The Seals of the Deanery of Jersey may be divided into seven categories

  • Non-armorial and non-symbolicaL (Seal of 1286)
  • Non-armorial but symbolicaL (Seal of 1308)
  • Armorial and symbolicaL (Seals of 1477, 1497 and 1516)
  • The armorial seal of 1477. (A Secretum or Privy seal)
  • Mabon's Jerusalem seal
  • Paulet's armorial seal
  • The Modern' Vesica' series. (17th century to the present date)
1286 seal

First seal

The earliest known Deanery Seal of Jersey was attached to a Charter of Nicholas de Vinchelez, son of Alan de Vinchelez. He confirmed a gift made by his uncle Nicholas de Vinchelez to the monks of Mont St Michel and to the Priory of Lecq, of a plot of land close to the land of John Henry in the Parish of St Ouen. This Charter, dated 1286, was preserved in the Departmental Archives of La Manche at Saint-Lo until the place was destroyed by American airmen in the late war.

The Seal, of which about two-thirds remained, contained a simple ivy-like foliage design surrounded by the words S. Decanatus Gersoii

1308 seal

Second seal

The second Deanery Seal introduces us to the realm of symbolism, in that it bore the Zodiacal Sign of the fishes. The secret use put to the Greek word for 'fish' by the early Christians is too well known to need comment, but it may be noted, in passing, that a design similar to the one on the seal occurs on the tiles of the ancient pavement of the once-magnificent shrine of Saint Thomas-a-Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Seal is appended to a letter of the Dean of Jersey, who affirms that in his presence Henri de Saint Martin, Clerk, acknowledged receipt from the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel of a book named The Ancient Digest. The borrower agreed to return the book or pay ten livres tournois in default. This business-like arrangement was dated 23 December 1308. It, also, was in the Archives at Saint-Lo.

15th century seal

Third seal

The third seal is to be found among the Trinity Manor documents in the Library of La Société Jersiaise. Between the years 1308 and 1477, when this new type of seal first appears, a sealless gap intervenes; but as no Deanery documents from that period have survived it is not possible to state with certainty that no seal actually existed. As, however, the 'Gothic Letter' appears in the surviving portion of the legend of this new seal, it may have been issued at a date earlier than 1477. Only three mutilated and imperfect impressions of the seal have been found, dating from 1477, 1497 and 1516 respectively, and of these, that of 1497 is perhaps the most perfect. Fragmentary as these relics are, however, they suffice to serve as foundations for a general reconstruction, provided that no attempt is made to reconstruct the legend or circumscription.

The seal, then, may be described as of the 'vesica' type commonly used for medieval ecclesiastical purposes. It measured 2 by 1½ inches and included, in its lower half, the two fishes which appeared in the 1308 seal, though in this instance they swim horizontally to sinister above the three rows of waves and are separated by a reel-like object. In its upper half it displays a shield of arms surmounted by the crook of a crozier, which implies that it belonged to a Bishop or an Abbot. The shield itself bears three bendlets within a border and these arms, in spite of the presence of the Crozier, were in later days taken to be the Arms of the Deanery of Jersey and blazoned as: Azure, three bendlets within a border, or.

Otherwise, it may be claimed that the arms really belonged to some Abbot or Bishop who had authorised the use of his own seal for this purpose.

Fourth seal

Whatever their origin, they appear by themselves in the form of a privy seal or secretum affixed to the tag of the 1477 document which also bears this Third Decanal Seal under the signature of Dean Nicolas Cornet.

The deeds to which this third Decanal Seal was appended all relate to the schools of Saints Mannelier and Anastase, and three of them were originally of great sigillographic interest, for each once bore twelve or thirteen seals. Two of these deeds are dated 1491 and one, 1497. The third Decanal Seal occupied a central position in each row. The other seals, which have all disappeared, were affixed by the Rector-Trustees of the schools, who presumably used their own privy seals.

For convenience sake I have named the Secretum the fourth seal, seeing that it had a separate existence.

Dean Mabon's seal

Fifth seal

The fifth seal is an extra-territorial curiosity introduced by the versatile Dean Mabon, which bears the arms of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In using these arms Dean Mabon, though he may have thought that his pilgrimage to the Holy City justified him, was nevertheless certainly guilty of an armorial peccadillo.

In other ways, also, Mabon impressed his personality on the pages of history. He was Dean of Jersey for several periods between 1509 and 1543, when he died; and at one time he even served as joint-Bailiff of the Island. As a builder, he added a chapel to the Parish Church of Saint Martin and on La Hougue Bie he extended to the eastward the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarte, by constructing a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which he named the Jerusalem Chapel. Herein, according to his enemies, he even used to commit sundry miracles of the catch-penny sort.

Dean Paulet's seal

Sixth seal

Mabon was succeeded by John Paulet, who has been described as 'the Jersey Vicar of Bray'. He was the last Roman Catholic and first Protestant Dean of the Island. An ecclesiast of the 'thorough' type, he purged the churches of all relics of Popery - whence the altar stones and fragments of saintly statuettes which have been and are still being found embedded in the masonry of the Tudor fortifications of Gorey Castle.

For decanal purposes he appears only to have used a seal of his family arms backed by a Crozier. This is the sixth Deanery Seal.

Between the death of Dean Paulet in 1576 and the appointment of Dean Bandinel in 1620, the local Church was organised on the lines of the Protestant Reformed Church of France and appears to have functioned without a Dean.

The office of Dean again lapsed on the tragic death of Dean Bandinel in 1645 and remained in abeyance until the Restoration of the Monarchy and Church of England in 1661, whenceforward until today Dean has succeeded Dean without interruption, the present holder being the 13th on the roll.

Dean Le Breton's seal
Dean Falle's seal

Seventh seal

Though no seals of the Bandinel period have been found, the post-Restoration sigillographic records are ample and almost all the 13 Deans are represented in it, and as these Venerable Divines all used one type of seal. I have found it convenient to name it the "Modern Vesica Seal" and place it seventh on my list.

In each example the 'Vesica', or pointed ellipse, contains the so-called arms of the Deanery, often imperfectly recorded, impaling the arms of the then Dean, while his name and titles are set forth in the legend or circumscription; the only variant to this arrangement being the seal now used by Dean Le Marinel. Here, the Dean, having no personal arms, impales the arms of the Deanery with his monogram, 'M L M'.

In 1785 the Deanery arms crossed the Atlantic to take their place on the seal of the Bishopric of New Jersey, whereon they are shown impaling the supposed arms of the Island of Jersey, otherwise the three leopards or lions of England which figure on the Seal of Office given by Edward the First to his Bailiff in Jersey.

If this example of heraldry-in-decay is interesting, it is also deplorable; but as it is a source of pride to its present possessor, further comment is perhaps undesirable.

The design on the episcopal chair

Episcopal chair

The heraldic heresy of combining the Arms of England with the Arms of the Deanery, initiated in New Jersey, has unhappily come home to roost in St Helier's Parish Church, where we find it repeated on an oval on the front of the back of the canopied episcopal chair lately installed near the High Altar.

On this fine piece of ecclesiastical furniture, the arms of England will be seen quartering (and not impaling) the arms of the Deanery of Jersey. As a decorative detail this new arrangement is attractively brilliant; but as a heraldic statement it is misleadingly wrong and should never have been fabricated.

The manner in which the arms of England became known locally as the arms of Jersey, as well as the arms of Guernsey, is explained in an article published in our Bulletin for 1943.

Edward Dupre's seal

The bronze matrix of Dean Edward Dupre's decanal seal is in the Museum of the Société. Incised in it are the Arms of the Deanery, deprived of their border, impaling the personal arms used by the Dean, (or, on a cross azure, four fleurs-de-lys or) and the whole is enclosed in a dotted oval. This oval measures 1 5/8 by 1¾ inches and the legend reads Edwardus Dupre decanus insule de Jersey. The ornate shield is backed by a crozier. Dupre was Dean from 1802 to 1823.

A second bronze matrix in the Museum is that which belonged to the Very Rev George Orange Balleine, Dean of Jersey from 1888 to 1906.

This seal, which is of the pointed ellipse type, bears the arms of the Deanery, without a border, impaling those claimed by himself, (argent, a lion sable), backed by a crozier. It should be noted that the original border on the Deanery arms gradually diminishes in breadth until, in recent examples, it disappears entirely.

Dean Le Marinel's seal is in many respects similar to those of William Corbet Le Breton and Dean Samuel Falle. Its main difference lies in the sinister half of the shield which carries the Dean's monogram 'M L-M'. The legend reads Sigill Matthaei Le Marinel decani insule de Jersey. The date 1937 appears above the shield flanking the crook of the crozier.

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